Catskill 3500 Club members hike region’s highest peaks (video)
Published: Monday, May 13, 2013
By ANN GIBBONS
HIKING a peak of 3,500 feet or more and finding romance is not for the faint of heart, but for the secretary and new president of the Catskill 3500 Club, that’s where their feet took them.
“I met the club requirements in 2001. And, well, Tom and I met on a hike five years ago,” said Laurie Rankin, parent/consumer specialist for the Child Care Council of Family of Woodstock, who is secretary of the club. Her husband, Tom, became club president at the recent annual meeting.
Founded in 1962, the all-volunteer Catskill 3500 Club marked its 50th anniversary in 2012. It has about 2,000 members with 800 winter members.
The annual membership fee is a mere $10 and includes a quarterly newsletter and a hike schedule. Those who have not yet completed the club requirements can participate as aspirant members.
The club name comes from its membership requirements: To hike all 35 Catskill peaks over 3,500 feet, plus an additional four peaks of the same height during the winter, a total of 39 peaks.
“Hiking the four peaks in winter is unique to the club,” Rankin said. She said an award certificate is presented at the annual dinner to those who met the requirements the previous year.
“The hikes don’t need to be accomplished in one year. You could take 35 years, doing one peak a year, and some members have,” Rankin said. She said members need to climb the 39 peaks just once.
“We sponsor hikes every Saturday and Sunday, except during big game hunting season, so the opportunities to climb are available almost all year,” Rankin said.
She said the hikes are led by experienced volunteers, who provide advice on peak conditions, where to go, gear to bring, boots to wear and layers to bring, reminding hikers to make sure they have enough water and to carry snow shoes for the mountaintop.
“It may be spring in the valley, but there is almost always deep snow at the peak until summer,” Rankin said.
All peaks, except two, are part of the Catskill Park, with most of them in Ulster and Greene counties.
“The two peaks outside the park are considered part of the Catskills,” Rankin said. Only two peaks are on private property; the rest are located on state-owned land.
Although Catskill Park borders state Route 28 West, Rankin said many of the trailheads are located in remote valleys.
“You learn to drive as well as hike,” she said. She said the duration of the hikes vary — some may be as short as 5 miles while others, looped together, run into the 15-to-20-mile range.
“Then, there’s Devil’s Peak, which is 23 miles end to end, with an elevation gain of 10,000 feet over the summit,” Rankin said.
She said the legend of Devil’s Peak is that God created the world and on the seventh day threw rocks at the Catskills.
“It was left to the devil,” she said humorously.
Rankin said members also do a lot of volunteer work in the Catskills.
“We maintain a section of the trail at Table Peak, with the trailhead at Denning, and at Peekamoose, along Ulster County Route 42,” she said.
Rankin said members also maintain three lean-tos, a three-sided structure with a roof for temporary shelter, at Table, the side of Hunter Mountain and at Balsam Lake.
“We have also been involved in building lean-tos, from clearing the ground to building the structure,” Rankin said.
Rankin said five of the fire towers in Catskill Park have been refurbished and are accessible to the public.
“The fire towers were originally used to spot smoke in the mountains, but today our volunteers provide historic and interpretive services, as well as local trail information,” she said.
Rankin said the club is a terrific organization for families, with youngsters as young as 6 and the young-at-heart in their 80s hiking.
“Our fee is low and hiking is a wonderful inter-generational activity that families can do together with little expense. Most peaks have no-fee parking areas,” Rankin said.
The club also sponsors Wilderness First Aid classes usually held in a firehouse, with a scholarship offered to the company in exchange for use of the facility, Rankin said.
“Hike leaders are offered the first opportunity to take the class so they can handle any injuries on the trail, then it’s offered to members,” she said.
However, one of the most valuable classes the club offers is map and compass reading, Rankin said.
“A GPS works fine on a straight, smooth roadway, but fails under a heavy tree canopy,” Rankin said.
“Unless your compass battery fails, like mine did once, you need a backup — a map and another compass. And, you need to know how to read the map,” she said.
Rankin said of the 35 peaks, 13 have no trails.
“You have to use a compass and map to navigate,” she said.
If there is no trail, how do hikers know they’ve reached the peak?
“We received permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation years ago to attach a bright orange canister to a tree at the peak,” Rankin said.
“There’s a log book inside and you sign in. No matter how many times you reach a peak and see your name as you sign in again — it’s such a thrill every time.”
Further information on the Catskill 3500 Club can be obtained on the website: www.catskill-3500-club.org.